Essential Gear for a Cold Ski Marathon

The Sisu Marathon is coming up in a couple days and according to the weather report, it's going to be pretty cold.  Overnight low of -9 and a daytime high of 7 or so (depending on where you look).  Well...at least we don't have to worry about getting rained out right?

Bearing conditions in mind, I thought I'd mention a couple key pieces of gear that you should all be bringing up to the race.  I'm not going to spend a lot of time discussing your thermal base layers because you've probably figured that out in your training leading up to the event.  Here are a couple accessory suggestions that will help elevate your experience from absolute misery to mere relative discomfort (hey...we're not doing this race because we don't like to suffer right?).


  • A balaclava--the word "balaclava" is interesting because no two people pronounce it the same way, and everyone is certain their pronunciation is the correct one.  A balaclava (or a buff if you are so inclined), covers up the critical skin on your neck where a lot of your body heat can escape.  In a ski race, you don't need a massive wool scarf, just a thin layer of fabric over your neck and covering your ears is a great way to retain that extra bit of heat you need when it's zero degrees. By the way, we just got some sweet new CyclovaXC buffs at the shop in case you don't want to wear a balaclava that clashes with your beautiful ski suit (I don't blame you).
  • Dermatone--that's the little blue tin to the right of the balaclava in the above image.  It's basically vaseline with sunscreen mixed in.  You should put this on your cheeks and nose to prevent windburn--it makes a big difference.  If you can't get dermatone, use vaseline.  Some people have been known to stick moleskin to their cheeks to keep them from freezing as well.  I've never done that though, dermatone works just fine.
  • Ski Mittens--lobster gloves or mittens are the way to go when it's zero.  Your fingers are always warmer if they can rub together.  Grab a pair of these, you still have Thursday evening to do a test ski so don't wait!
  • Toe Warmers--This is the big one.  Go down to Menards and buy a pack of 100 toe warmers (if they make one that big).  The thing about your ski clothing is that it's designed to reflect heat...so if you throw a heating element in between the layers, it's surprising how toasty warm you feel.  Modern toe warmers have an adhesive back, so you put them on your toe and they stay in place as you shove your foot into your boot.  However, the fun doesn't have to stop there.  On really cold days, I'll stick a couple of those adhesive patches on my thighs as well.  Believe it or not, having toe warmers on your thighs helps keep your hands warm as you're waiting for the race to start.  I also usually bring a couple extra packets with me during the race, that way if I start to shiver uncontrollably at KM 32, I can stop and apply them.  I've never had to actually do this...but it's a psychological relief to know I have that option.
Ok, that's all I wanted to mention.  In case you're wondering, I'm planing on wearing the following:
  • Smartwool base layer
  • Ski Suit (ours have the eyelet fabric so they're a little warmer)
  • Lightweight vest
I'm not racing in warm-up pants or a warm-up jacket because those make you sweat too much and then you end up colder than when you're under-dressed.

Of course, these are just suggestions.  All of you know your own bodies and clothing.  You're always cold for the first 15 minutes, but then the furnace starts raging and the fun begins!  See you all Saturday!

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